Af peace process in trouble again

The massive truck bomb explosion that ripped through the heart of Kabul during rush hour on Wednesday has left the Afghan capital battered, bruised and bloodied yet again. Over 90 people, mainly civilians, were killed in the blast that also left around 500 people injured. This is among the deadliest terror attacks in Kabul since 2001. The attack took place in the heavily fortified diplomatic enclave. That the attackers could breach its supposedly tight security points to chinks in the armour. Did they have links with Afghan security personnel and/or foreign diplomats or other staff? No group has taken credit for the attack yet. The Taliban has denied responsibility for it. Some believe that the attack is the work of the Islamic State (IS) group, an act of revenge for the US’s use of the “mother of all bombs” to obliterate its cave and tunnel complex in Nangarhar province in April.

However, the attack appears to be the work of the Haqqani Network, a Pakistan-backed terror group with close ties with the Taliban. Indeed, the Afghan government has blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence for the attack. It has ordered the hanging of 11 Haqqani Network and Taliban prisoners and the cancellation of cricketing ties with Pakistan. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are already tense, can be expected to deteriorate further.

Having suffered countless terror attacks and relentless violence for decades, Afghans are accustomed to violence. Yet, the recent blast has triggered an unprecedented outpouring of emotions. Public rage is directed as much on Pakistan and the perpetrators of the attack as it is on the Afghan government for failing to protect its people. If the government is unable to shield the capital adequately, what security can people expect in the smaller towns and rural areas? Public demands for strong military action against the Haqqani Network, the Taliban and the IS group are likely to grow in the coming days. The Ashraf Ghani government could be tempted to call off the talks with the Taliban. While this may project him as a ‘tough’ leader, it is a dangerous option. US President Donald Trump is said to be considering deploying more troops in Afghanistan and should the peace process be cancelled, it would plunge Afghanistan in a spiral of violence. The latest attack in Kabul is no doubt horrific but calling off the peace process, however frail and fruitless this process has been so far, is not the right response. Ghani must mobilise international support, especially from countries like Saudi Arabia and China, to force Pakistan to halt its destructive policy of support to terrorism. As a peace broker, China must do more to keep the process alive.

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